Ed Armenta, the new ranger for the Payson district of the Tonto National Forest, said he always wanted to be a ranger long before he even knew what a ranger did.
"We used to go to Yosemite when I was a kid," he said. "Seeing the park rangers out there, working in that beautiful environment, I thought that was quite appealing."
But, he said, after learning more about a career in forestry, his high school career counselor tried to discourage him, citing a lack of job opportunities.
Still, the lure of the great outdoors proved too powerful, and by the time he reached college, Armenta said he knew his path would lead him to the forest.
Now the head of the Payson Ranger District, Armenta said he owes at least part of his success to the Rotary International Club.
"I really believe in Rotary," he said. "They sent me to a Youth Leadership Camp when I was a junior in High School. It was a major turning point in my life.
"I was exposed to national leaders at that camp. They spoke of their philosophy on what it takes to be a leader, on what it takes to be a productive member of society, how to set goals, and how to achieve them.
"When I had an opportunity as an adult to join Rotary, I jumped at the chance."
And, he said, the hands-on training he received while working for the California Department of Fish and Game helped him solidify his plans for his future.
"I got to work in the fisheries biology field," he said. "I also was exposed to the game warden profession, and my intention when I went to college was to get a degree, but perhaps toward law enforcement."
When Armenta was a junior in college, he said the U.S. Forest Service made a recruiting trip to Humboldt State University "it's nationally known for its natural resources program" and he expressed his interest.
"I went through the interview process and a few weeks later, I received a letter in the mail offering me a job working with the Forest Service on the Plumas National Forest," he said.
He began his career with the Forest Service in 1981 as a student trainee-wildlife biologist. He stayed with the Plumas National Forest until 1990, working as district wildlife biologist and as assistant East Zone biologist. From 1990 to 1998, he worked as a resource officer on the Cannell Meadow and Greenhorn Ranger Districts in the Sequoia National Forest. For the past two years, Armenta worked as deputy district ranger on the Bradshaw Ranger District in Prescott.
Payson has been without a district ranger since Steve Gunzel transferred to the Sierra Vista Ranger District last September. Armenta said when he started looking for a new post, Payson fit the bill.
"I got to looking at places in this region Arizona and New Mexico that were appealing to me, and I found that Payson had everything that I think I need, both personally and professionally," he said. "It's also a great place to raise a family."
Armenta and his wife, Tambra, have three daughters Heather, 14; Hilary, 12; and Hannah, 10.
He said it was also the employees within the Payson Ranger District that helped him make his decision to apply for the Payson position.
"I was really impressed with what the people here have done without a permanent district ranger," he said. "There's some really good people here, highly professional with strong work ethics and active in the community."
The new district ranger said issues dealt with by the Sequoia, Prescott and Payson districts are all similar.
"They're all national forests that are experiencing a huge influx of people; they're all near large population centers that are sending thousands and thousands of people to the forest for recreation," he said.
"One of my personal values is that we (the Forest Service) remain highly responsive to the needs of the public," he said. "We are employed by them, and the national forests belong to them."